It was as though something went wrong. I could hear a pin drop, because my brothers’ lips were sealed.
The screech of the tyres announced that we were home. The school bus stopped right in front of our house, after security waved us through, like any other day. The bus attendant looked at me, and I got up and gathered my brothers, down to the pavement. We didn’t forget to hug our friends, goodbye, because it was the end of the term, and most of us would be travelling for summer holiday.
The bus sped off as I gently led my brothers to the front porch, and through the dwarf gate. Our walls were so short that neighbours could greet, just by standing across their fence. But ours was different, everyone minded their business; we had high shrubs that built a higher wall around our dwarf fence.
We only heard our neighbours come in or go out, in the early hours of the morning, in their cars, we heard their kids play, but we never played together. Each time we saw one another at the field, we stole wishful glances at one another.
I was surprised that Agnes didn’t come out to wait for us as usual. Our mother had instructed her to do so, but I led my brothers up to the door, but nobody came looking. I rang the bell and our mother answered. We were surprised, because she never answers the door, no matter what. Nobody answers the door, except Agnes. Mother says we were too young to speak to strangers, and most times, I wondered if everyone who knocked on the door was really a stranger.
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I had watched as mother asked not to be bothered even if it was one of her friends, dad’s friends or relations that came knocking. Agnes would diligently tell them that ‘Madam was not around.’ Each time she did so, I winced at her lie, because some of them usually met us on our way to play at the field, and I would try as much as possible to avoid them. Father always said that lies were never meant to be told.
My brothers didn’t really care who answered the door, they quickly ran into our mother’s arms which were not outstretched to welcome them. My eyes saw her recoil when they hit her, out of excitement. Mother never gave hugs; she was never around for us to feel the hug of a mother. I could see from her face that she detested the duty of answering the door, she felt out of place.
My eyes asked the questions, but my tongue was tied to the roof of my mouth. What was she doing at home at that time of the day? Mother usually left before the break of dawn, and came home while we were already in bed. Sometimes, the slam of the front door or the slap of her feet on the floor announced her arrival. I usually heard her: she would go straight to the kitchen, heat up her dinner in the microwave and the next thing I hear was a voice, coming from the television. At times, I wonder how she did it.
I smelt something coming from the kitchen, and it was as though everyone smelt it too. We all rushed into the kitchen at once. Mother rushed to the cooker and turned it off, while she busily added some water into the pot. My brothers could not hold in their excitement:
“Mum, you cooked! Wow!”
They gave her a quick hug and ran upstairs to bath and change into something else. Mum had her back to me; I was confused on what to do. It was as though something held my feet to the floor that I could not move. Things were changing too fast.
“Tiwa, set the tables.”
Her voice came like the gust of a heavy wind which nearly blew me off my feet.
It was as though I was dreaming. I tried to move, but the soles of my feet gripped the floor. I didn’t know what to do. Mother never came into the kitchen. I never did anything in the kitchen. I was not used to coming into the kitchen or doing things in the kitchen.
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Mother never allowed us to come into the kitchen. It was usually Agnes that took care of such things. I didn’t know where things were usually kept or what it meant to set a table. Where was Agnes, why didn’t she come to get us when the bus arrived and why was mother cooking in the kitchen, getting her work cloth all messy?
I heard my brothers run around; they called Agnes at the top of their voice, but she didn’t answer. They hadn’t taken their bath and I knew they would be hungry. I heard them run into her room, and their noise on the staircase announced their decent. Mother hadn’t looked up to check if the table was set or not. She was busy with the food, but I noticed she had been on the same thing for minutes.
I suspected she must have gone into a deep thought. My brothers were already in the kitchen; they crowded her up and asked for their lunch. Agnes always had our food ready and warm in a food flask. She was the one who bath my brothers and did everything around the house.
“Mummy, we are hungry! Where is Agnes?”
Something slid down my mother’s cheeks. She was crying. Mother cleaned her eyes with her palms, turned to look at all of us and said:
“Agnes is gone!”
Who would prepare us for school? Who would get things done around the house while mum and dad were not home? It was as though mum read my mind:
“We all have to deal with it. She is never coming back.”
Mother went straight to where we kept the plates; she quickly brought out the plates and started dishing out what looked like coloured rice.
Written by Oluoma Udemezue.